Review: Transformers: War for Cybertron

The Transformers mythos may be based on the phrase “more than meets the eye,” but its plethora of licensed video games buck that trend. In fact, in the case of Transformers: War for Cybertron, what you see is exactly what you get: a subpar third-person shooter fully reliant on the glossy coat of nostalgia haphazardly slopped on in order to “roll out” units to unsuspecting gamers. Endless waves of tiresome enemies, dull environments, and done-to-death mechanics assault you from every turn until you’re calling each and every one of them out like Megatron on his flunkies’ incompetence. It’s certainly playable and boasts the occasional entertaining firefight. But it’s certainly nothing that’s going to stick with you as long as the stories and characters of Transformers will.
When you start up one of the game’s two campaign modes (choose from the Autobot or Decepticon quests), the first thing you’ll notice is that this shooter is devoid of a real cover system. You may be used to the stop-and-pop action dealt so frantically in the game’s spiritual cousins (think Gears of War or Uncharted) that kept you lingering long enough to make it to your next destination without putting up too much of a fight. War for Cybertron forces you to stay out in the open with bots who want you dead. It may not be a memorable game, but it serves up Prime-sized annoyance when you find yourself repeating the same section over and over because you couldn’t help but strut right into the heat of battle armed with your default weapon and a sliver of health.

I’m not a masochist; thus, I didn’t enjoy completing the same areas multiple times over because I couldn’t protect myself beyond simply returning fire. Some may call it endearingly challenging, but I call it artificial lengthening of a campaign that could stand to be a couple hours shorter — an hour and a half average to each chapter begins to grate on the nerves after one completes essentially the same objectives over and over. Ten chapters altogether offer a hefty amount of playtime, but halfway through (the end of the Decepticon campaign and the start of the Autobots) you’ll start looking toward other games sitting in your backlog.

As far as the rest goes, it’s all cut-and-dry. Power-ups, health bonuses, and weapon drops are littered throughout the massive metal cityscapes of Megatron. You can phase in and out of your “transformed” states as any of the main characters at will, which usually offers flight, augmented weapons, and just the cool factor of being able to shift whenever you feel like it. Arguably the best part of any Transformers game, eh? Decent shooting mechanics take center stage, as you’ll get caught up in more than a few firefights where enemies continue to spawn, you take them out, then advance. Lather, rinse, repeat. More often than not you’ll pull switches, break doors, and spend a few minutes trying to figure out where the rest of your squad has wondered off to, only to realize they simply went in the direction you should have been heading in the first place.

Whether you choose to take point with the “good guys” or the “bad guys,” at least you have personality-appropriate banter along the way to break up the monotony a bit; Megatron berating his squad is particularly fun and in-character and interaction with Starscream quickly became one of my favorite parts of the Decepticon campaign. The game makes proficient use of the Unreal 3 engine and serves up environments that play about as interesting as they look: metal factory-like locations, gears, machinery, and nondescript locations you won’t remember later. It’s acceptable, but about as stand-out as one of the many stomping grounds seen in Gears of War or Call of Duty.

As much as I enjoyed parading around as favorite characters from my childhood, I just didn’t feel as though this entry was quite worth my time. Compared to the other licensed Transformers games it may as well be a 10 out of 10, but how much does that say, really, when this game is all about what it can mimic in the first place? Even its multiplayer mode (which are in all honesty pretty decent if you have friends willing to play) takes more than a few pages from Gears of War’s Horde mode and bits and pieces from Team Fortress 2 sprinkled throughout. Drop-in and drop-op co-op play was a great feature, but only as it’s become such a rarity with modern games that I’ll take any co-op scrap tossed to me, so I can’t exactly count that as a huge plus here. It will, however, be a huge boon to you if you decide you want to conquer the campaign in a fairly quick manner, because having a friend along for the ride will greatly lessen your annoyance and the toll this long-winded adventure can take.

All in all, this is just your everyday, average third-person shooter with Transformers shinies and eye candy tossed in for good measure. For such a storied and beloved set of characters, I have to say I was hoping for something more. I can’t help but wonder how great of a reception War for Cybertron would get if it hadn’t had such a powerhouse of a franchise behind it. It’s just, well, average. Do your part as a fan and give this a rental rather than a purchase. If you have to have a Transformers video game in your future, you could do much, much worse.

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